Richard-Business Eng
Professional Teacher
A few reasons why you should not depend on learning a language from songs or movies
Jul 19, 2019 2:21 PM
Comments · 46

I suppose I should be more careful when writing it (after all, my nose is quite dear to me), but I find Leigh's comment about "a series of movies/books about wizards and wizardry that do not serve any purpose in learning English" very amusing. I too hardly ever talk about wizards and wizardry in everyday life, but this series is one of the main reasons why I can write this comment in English (maybe not absolutely correct and natural English, but still, it's better than nothing). Why stop at "Harry Potter", though? I suppose it makes sense to forget about William Shakespeare, Walter Scott, Jane Austen and other useless authors: their English is very outdated, God forbid people use their books in order to learn something about the English language. Because, you know these hopeless people, language learners: they are inherently unable to use critical thinking, they just parrot things they read and can't learn to differentiate between a literary device and "proper" English. 

Off-topic things aside, I think we should not completely depend on anything or anybody when learning a language, really. It's not just about songs, films and literature, it's the same with people: someone thrice older than me probably doesn't speak the way someone my age does; even people my age do not speak in the same way, it depends on where they're from, what level of education they have, what style they prefer etc. But I don't think learning from someone different from you is wasting time. Actually I'm pretty sure even learning things like Eminem's "Careful What You Wish For" by heart when I was 14 and didn't really speak English (for some reason lovely colour songs were not as interesting to me at the time) was beneficial for me in terms of language learning. 

July 20, 2019
Hi Richard,

I decided to reply using song lyrics only. I borrowed them from the following artists/bands: Pink, Oasis, The Beatles, Madonna, ABBA, Cyndi Lauper and Pink Floyd.

<em>I'm sorry I don't understand</em>
<em>Where all of this is coming from</em>

<em>There are many things that I</em>
<em>Would like to say to you but I don't know how</em>

<em>Think of what you're saying.</em>
<em>You can get it wrong and still you think that it's alright.</em>
<em>Try to see it my way,</em>
<em>Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong.</em>
<em>While you see it your way</em>
<em>There's a chance that we may fall apart before too long.</em>

<em>Music makes the people come together</em>
<em>[Never gonna stop]</em>
<em>Music, mix the bourgeoisie and the rebel</em>
<em>[Never gonna stop]</em>

<em>Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty</em>
<em>What would life be?</em>
<em>Without a song or a dance what are we?</em>

<em>And girls, they wanna have fun</em>
<em>Oh girls just wanna have fun</em>

<em>Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone :)</em>
July 19, 2019
While there are for sure many funny misunderstandings, I do think that songs can be a good way to learn a language. I think it depends on the genre. When listening to Rap and Hip Hop, there's a lot of slang, incorrect grammar and words that are just inappropriate in a work environment. But I think in every language there are also songs with intelligent lyrics, good pronunciation, correct grammar, useful idioms etc. At least for my native tongue German I know lots of very good songs. Learners dhould of course not just rely on what they here but also read the actual lyrics, so that they don't memorise the wrong expressions. I think at first one can listen to the song and try to understand it, then use it as a dictation and write the lyrics down, then comparing the notes with the actual lyrics and then watching the song first with lyrics subtitles and try to sing-a-long and then listen to it without looking at the lyrics and remembering it by heart.

For beginners, children's songs are very good to learn basic vocabulary. For instance, they can learn colours and professions with colour songs.

I think especially for languages like Chinese that have a quite difficult pronunciation, songs can be a good way to develop an ear for the language and develop a natural flow. It's not important to understand every single word but rather to focus on rhythm and intonation. Learning Chinese songs by heart and singing them at Karaoke parlours helped me greatly to improve my fluency.

Of course, songs shouldn't be the sole resource for learning a language but I love listening to songs in my target languages while I do housework.
July 19, 2019
Hm, songs, TV series, movies and books are bad... What kind of resources should learners use then? Seems I did it completely wrong.
July 20, 2019

I get your point, Richard. The only reason I decided to comment is that many learners read your posts and follow your advice (and rightly so) and I wouldn't want them to feel like they should avoid using songs and movies, because I think the pros outweigh the cons. As a non-native speaker of English, I can tell you that there's nothing quite like finally knowing the meaning of a song you've known for a long time or understanding every word in your favourite movie scene. These are the "wow" moments that make learning an amazing experience. Picking up a few non-standard expressions along the way seems like a minor problem to me. Besides, a simple Google search will tell you they're non-standard. Song lyrics are often discussed on various forums where native speakers patiently explain that this is not the way to speak to your boss :)

Oh and of course Pink Floyd's "leave them kids alone" (in my previous comment) is non-standard. Don't want to confuse learners.

July 20, 2019
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Richard-Business Eng
Language Skills
English, French
Learning Language